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Monday, Aug. 19, 2013

The Spectacular Now

The future is unwritten as teens come of age

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After a long night of partying, climaxed by an ineffectual stab at telling off the girl who had recently left him, Sutter (Miles Teller) awakens in the morning on a stranger’s lawn. The girl who discovers him, Aimee (Shailene Woodley), is a classmate at his high school, a fellow senior he had never noticed. Sutter is a cool kid, a joker skirting failure in class; everyone knows Sutter. Aimee is cute but inconspicuous, smart, low-key and college bound. Sutter helps her on that first morning with her paper route. They meet for lunch at their school cafeteria. They begin to date. They fall in love.

Sutter is the protagonist in The Spectacular Now, indie director James Ponsoldt’s endearing adaptation of Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel. Like most of the characters (but not Aimee), he drifts between keg parties, yet the blackout on the lawn foreshadows something more serious than commonplace, illicit adolescent drinking. Sutter carries a hip flask and sips whiskey continually. He’s usually a fun drunk, but a drunk trying to escape the misfortune of a broken home. Dad left years before and mom refuses to explain where he went—or why.

As the kind of boy who sits with the guys and ranks girls according to their hotness, Sutter seems an odd beau for Aimee, who has never even dated. She is naïve; he’s experienced enough to allow himself to be drawn—consciously—to a different sort of girl than he had ever known. Aimee is a good listener, reads voraciously and helps him with his geometry homework. He sweetly initiates her into the joy of sex and coaxes her into being more self-confident. Sutter has confidence to burn, but his cocksure attitude conceals a hollow core. With no plans for the future, he lives in a moment that keeps slipping away.

Teller gives a good performance as Sutter but Woodley, playing the more subtle character, is superbly nuanced in a film that shifts almost imperceptibly from comedy to tragedy. In The Spectacular Now, the future isn’t written and the plot mirrors the surprise and indecision of life.